Father Swinney (Vicar of Tanfield) announced the first hymn for his afternoon Sunday School: “We are but little children weak” and inwardly, I groaned *No, not again!”
What was I doing there?
Simply, because I was teaching myself to play the organ, and Father Swinney was the only priest who had agreed that I might practice on the lovely Harrison, 3-manual organ, at St. Margaret’s as often as I liked, and, wait for it . . . for free!
The only snag, in return, “Would I accompany the singing at Sunday School in the afternoon at 2.30?”
Despite the fact that I had to be in the pit at 5.30 a.m. every Sunday morning, returning to my digs in time for dinner (1 p.m.) I performed this duty every Sunday for 3 years!
Why did I groan?
Because of the sheer inappropriateness of his choices (most from the A&M Hymns “For the young”) which included “We are but little children meek, not born to any high estate”.
Occasionally we had (Oh dear!) “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look on me a little child”, or “Above the bright blue sky in heaven’s bright abode”.
Nowadays could any intelligent youngster in this Space Age, where there have been no sign of this paradise sing such lyrics?
Sitting on the organ stool, I wondered what image these hardy, tough youngsters were forming in their minds.
They were solid, pleasant young people to deal with and sang this damaging rubbish with enthusiasm, but I feared whether they would survive spiritually on such a negative image of Our Lord.
Whoever wrote about Jesus being “meek and mild” obviously had never pondered over the Gospels, where in His dealings with ordinary folk who needed healing and compassion, He could be so gentle and courteous. However, when you consider His condemnation of the hierarchy of His day, of the danger of reliance upon riches, or seeking advancement in Society, of the way in which by His very bearing He could walk unscathed through an angry mob. By the way He steadfastly set His face to Jerusalem, knowing that He was going to a painful, ignominious death, apparently in the world’s eyes, a failure.
As Jesus strides through the Gospels, here is no namby-pamby Individual, or a “push-over” but someone who (as St. John says) “Knew what was in man”.
Sadly, I think so many of these un-real presentations of Jesus in hymns (and prayers) and Victorian art have permeated through to adulthood and this buttressed by some of the sloppy Victorian and Edwardian imagery that attracts a negative response from the outsiders.
How the Jesus of the Gospels can be dismissed by some as weak, inoffensive, a “Creeping Jesus” is beyond me.
Here is a Man, who is walking steadfastly towards death in complete but unwilling, (see Gethsemane) obedience to his Father.
We sometimes hear concerning a person “He/She was a real saint: he/she never saw any harm in anyone and never spoke an ill word against anyone in all his/her life”.
If that is “saintliness”, reading the Gospels, Jesus was no saint. He taught people not to sit in judgement on others, but never failed to speak out against injustices.
He was not blind to the evil that people did or encouraged others to do and spoke the truth, rebuking people such as senior Clerics in high places whenever it was right to do so.
Jesus was a realist and no easy-going “goody” who never saw evil or wrong in others. Where He thought people were not sincere in their religion, He did not hesitate to call them “hypocrites” (play-actors).
To speak the truth was more important to Him than to make His hearers comfortable. Jesus Christ “meek and mild”? No fear, but He was loving, compassionate, wise and sympathetic. He was Love in action, but never at any time, “meek and mild”.
“Please draw a picture of what you think God looks like”.
That was the subject presented to a class of primary children at our Church School, and I wondered what their teacher would find, given their lively imaginations.
Among the images which echoed the latest science fiction shows on the TV, there was a preponderance of faces of elderly gentlemen, with long bushy beards.
Having attended a School Eucharist the previous day, where one hymn described God as “The ancient of days”, which only confirmed the idea of God being a rather elderly gentleman, I was not surprised.
Couple this with a group of ‘teen-agers” who were asked “Does God understand the Internet?”, who all answered “No” in a show of hands and then when they realised how foolish that was, burst out laughing.
Now if I were asking you the same questions, to “Draw God”, or being examined on the Almighty’s computer knowledge, what would be your opinions?
One of our problems when trying to explain the Christian faith to the average Church out-sider, is that for the majority, God is a product of misinformation or no information.
Think about it. Much as I love the traditional language we often use in worship, many phrases or words are completely alien.
For instance a Collect that begins “Prevent us O Lord in all out doings” puzzles folk, thinking that God wants to prevent us from doing something (mind, that’s a popular idea of religion, that God is always saying “No”), whereas it means “Go before us”; just the opposite!
Yet, we (if understanding aright) prefer the “quaint” idea that God is somehow different, needing to be approached with different language skills (suitable for a King) and to a great extent they are right.
God is different, because we believe Him to be the One who is the Creator of all that is given yet we try to confine Him within our own human (and inadequate) understanding.
If the mind boggles at the Internet, where at the stroke of a computer key we can latch on to knowledge of almost everything around us, how much superior is the mind that is behind the intricate and extraordinary wonder that we call “Creation”?
As the poet Addison wrote “The spacious firmament on high, with all the blue ethereal sky, And spangled heavens, a shining frame, Their great original proclaim.
The unwearied sun from day to day, Does his Creator’s power display, And publishes to every land The works of an almighty hand.
What though in solemn silence all Move round the dark terrestrial ball, What though nor real voice nor sound, Amid their radiant orbs be found; In reason’s ear they all rejoice, And utter forth a glorious voice; For ever singing as they shine, ‘The hand that made us is Divine’."
The Psalmists wrote often, drawing our attention to the wonder of Creation and the even greater wonder of the Creator, yet for all that modern astronomy shows, we can do nothing (as Society seems to do) except to litter it with more and more of our space rubbish. Like careless tourists we leave it to be swallowed up by someone or something. Worse still, we are already eyeing up Space to see what we can mine from it (money) or possibly as bases for inter-galatical warfare or a new site for a Ferris Wheel for wealthy space tourists.
“When I consider the works of thy fingers, the moon and the stars that thou hast ordained” says the Psalmist.
Not understanding the greatness and unfathomable mystery that is God, means we can neither draw Him for His image (that is if we could bear the sight), nor question His computer skills, but realise that here is a power beyond our imagining who (as Jesus taught) Himself is Love.
As we meet for worship “Lo, God is here, let us adore and own how awe-ful is this sight”.
I had a very happy childhood together with my two elder brothers, Jack and Tom, Jack being the middle brother and somewhat the “odd man out” for he tended to be “bolshie”, not conforming to the “household rules”.
As a result, if anyone was being severely punished (often for being late for Sunday lunch, keeping us all waiting), it would be Jack and as a result, there grew up a barrier between him and Dad that continued until right through to adulthood.
If you thought of God as a loving Father, then as far as Jack was concerned, he couldn’t imagine it. Sadly, there was little love lost between him and Dad.
Jack, I am sure was not an exception in finding difficulty in imagining God as a “loving” father and indeed in today’s brutal world, where physical abuse of children seems to be growing, nor can many children who carry the scars (both physical and psychological) of an unhappy childhood into their adult thinking.
Reading the early “historical” books of the Old Testament, God is seen as a vicious, brutal being who commands His Chosen People to murder whole communities, including children and babes in arms, taking their land and flocks.
Yet, even in the Old Testament we find indications of another face of God.
After Cain has murdered his brother Abel, God protects him from being lynched by his neighbours, and in the writings of all the prophets, and the “Rulebooks” of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, provision is to be made for the welfare of widows, the homeless and the “strangers” (immigrants and refugees). Perhaps we should particularly remember the latter.
Read the prophet Hosea (chapter 11) and you find that there is a gentle side of God, likening Him to a Father who takes the hands of His little children, leading and loving them.
Which is the true picture of God then?
We have to have in mind this gentler side of God, remembering that trying to compare the earthly with the heavenly is unproductive.
The “Fatherhood” of God and His character are seen in the life and teaching of Jesus, uncoloured by tribal and religious differences, where we are seen as God’s lambs and sheep of whom “The very hairs of their heads are numbered”.
The God, who in Jesus, takes the little children and gathers them in His arms, warning about the terrible punishment to be meted to those who hurt or abuse them. Jesus (who is the true expression of the character of God), tells us that if we are to be accepted by Him, then we must have the attributes of children.
Not to be crawling on the carpet in our spiritual nappies, but have the trusting, open-ness, sincerity and eagerness to learn, which should be the adult/child relationship.
We speak of the “fear of the Lord”, but the word means “respect” rather than being frightened. I confess that as a youngster I was frightened of this great ogre-like Father, when I should have been helped to discover that Our Father in His magnificent greatness, loves and forgives me and in the character displayed by the Son of God is warm, approachable and desiring only that we may have the right relationship with Him.
The very first wedding I conducted as a curate was the worst possible experience, with a drunken congregation (including the bride’s father). The service began with the words, “Dearly beloved” and after the service, I stormed into the Vicar’s study and in response to his enquiry as to how it had gone, I said, “Fancy expecting me to call that lot ‘Dearly Beloved’, the way that they behaved!” He shook his head and said gently, “George, you may not have found them loveable, but God, their Father does, so much that He died for them on a cross; Remember that always”. I have tried to do so in my dealings with our Father’s children at all their ages and in all their stages, and I hope it may have made me a better parish priest.
7 October 2018
THANK YOU Alison for providing the handsome Harvest Lunch last Sunday and all who helped and brought desserts. Thoroughly enjoyable with a lovely atmosphere.
“Always let your conscience be your guide”, so sings a character in a Walt Disney film, which at first reading sounds a fine idea, but there are problems if we’re talking about “Conscience” being the voice of God, guiding us in our day to day behaviour.
Some folk think this is a good expression of God, that small voice directing our actions upon which we can all rely, and at first thought that sounds sense.
However, it’s not as easy as that, for we need to ask
“What feeds our conscience?”
We need to examine this a little more deeply and think how our individual consciences can be manipulated to be unreliable, morally..
Much depends upon our personal upbringing.
Had you been growing up in Germany in the 1930s, with the continual persecution and vilification of the Jews, a young boy would have been led to believe that doing so, was good and right.
Considering the evil influence of this community, it would seem to him to be morally acceptable in the same way that with the divisive nature of the pro-Brexit campaign it seemed considered right to persecute immigrants and refugees within Britain, yet clean contrary to the moral values of the prophets and of course, Jesus.
Deuteronomy and Leviticus list the kindnesses that people should offer to the widow, the stranger (ie refugees and immigrants), that are clean contrary to the tone of other sections of the Old Testament, where none but the pure Jew must triumph regardless of the hurt it inflicts upon others.
One could continue to list ways in which environment and Society can influence what we consider to be good or evil.
To a great extent with the increasing secularisation of England, we are drifting from the Christian morality which in the past shaped so much of our national conscience, to an “I” conscience, where much of our behaviour is guided by how something will affect ME.
If we wish to hear the voice of God, it will not necessarily come through a misdirected conscience, but by reference to the life and teaching of Jesus and the prophets.
We need to soak ourselves in these teachings and example of Jesus and the Divine guidance that the prophets offer, who so often condemn the accepted morality of, what St. John describes as “The World”.
The sad truth is that our consciences can easily be misdirected by external influences and reflect the morals of those around us, and the tenor of the age.
According to our up-bringing, things that are of no moral consequence, such as a youngster being brought up in a vegetarian family, will find his/her conscience challenging, when in other company they are confronted with non-vegetarian foods.
Likewise, a businessman may excuse his poor treatment of employees, because it is for the good of the economy and thus for the “common good”.
If we truly want to hear the “Voice of God”, we shall need to abandon the easy, accommodating thoughts feeding us, and discover the right, but not always easy to obey, directions of Jesus, the true Voice.
The truth of God’s nature is to be found only in the conscience that has been influenced by past Christian teaching and practise; otherwise, the Voice of God becomes nothing but an accumulation of so many possibly negative voices.
The Dean of Wells Cathedral irritated me (not all that difficult), but at the end of the Cathedral Eucharist, he would throw his hands in the air, and proclaim “The Eucharist is ended; go in peace”!.
Why was I irritated? Because it wasn’t (and isn’t) true.
What I wanted to stand up and say was “No it isn’t, Mr. Dean”, (“Mr.” is the correct title when addressing a Dean!), “actually, It’s only just begun!”.
When I was young, seeing the Church Notices at All Saints’, Ryde I saw that at 9.30 there was a “Sung Eucharist” which confused me, with a famous toothpaste being titled “Eucryl”, only to discover later that Eucharist in Greek (Eucharisto), means “Thanksgiving”!.
Which brings me on to the thought that “Thanksgiving” does not feature that often in our Sunday intercessions. Surely, the well mannered when asking for something, should precede it by saying to the donor “Thank you” for what we have already enjoyed.
How often if ever, do we say “Grace” when beginning or ending a meal?
As a child I and my 2 brothers were never allowed to leave the table until we had said a “Grace” even if it was only “Thank you God for our good (supper, dinner, whatever); can I please get down now?”
So, call it what you will, but “Eucharist” was one of the earliest names for The Lord’s Supper, remembering that Greek was a common language at the time.
So, our service is a Eucharist ” a “Thank you” service. The “Sung Thank you”, if you like.
Here we call it the “Parish Communion” and we’ll think about that another time, but it means, that is “The Parish Sharing”.
Now, let’s return to our enthusiastic Dean, proclaiming “Our Eucharist (Thank you) is ended".
Turn to your Book of Common Prayer; there is a Prayer of Thanksgiving (in which at one time the whole congregation would join and know by heart).
In it we say thanks for all God’s Blessings, and it continues that we “Show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, (that’s the easy bit) but in our lives (the hard bit), by giving up ourselves to thy service and walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life”.
Where are we going to do that?
Why, in our daily living, our encounters with our fellow men and women.
What our Eucharist does, is to provide us by the Sacrament and worshipping with our fellow Christians, the strength to live that life of “serving”; “Serving God and our neighbour”
The Eucharist does not end with the Blessing. It’s full effect will be shown by the way we live, when we have gone through the church doors into the real world with all its opportunities and challenges.
When the priest dismisses us at the end of the Service we are reminded that we are sent out on a mission.
That is, “To love and serve the Lord”.
St. Paul tells us how we are to live the Eucharist OUTSIDE the church doors, and “In the Name of Christ”.
Here’s a list (Galatians 5, vv22-23):
Love, Joy & Peace: describes the Christian’s relationship with God and what we receive from God
Patience, Kindness and Goodness: describes the Christian’s experience in relation to others - our attitudes
Faithfulness, Gentleness & Self-control: describes our relationship with others, being trustworthy, humble, but not a “push-over”
Other “Gifts of the Spirit” are listed in: Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4. Do read, pray and ponder over them.
With these gifts, if we will, we can “live” the Eucharist.